7 Designers Sound Off On Female Empowerment & Fashion

Feminism just keeps cropping up in the fashion industry discourse lately: There’s that spring ’16 Dior tee emblazoned with “We Should All Be Feminists,” the title of a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie book, for example. Prabal Gurung also turned out feminist tees for his fall ’17 show finale, and Jonathan Simkhai gifted his front row attendees with tees reading “Feminist AF.” Adam Lippes’ models carried Planned Parenthood signs, while Mara Hoffman opened her show with the Women’s March organizers. It can be tricky to discern whether these wearable statements about female empowerment are merely for the attention (and the sales) or genuine calls to action (and, in the case of male designers, a show of solidarity). Regardless, it’s promising to see feminist messaging get more mainstream.
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Beyond feminist tees, there have been some shuffles in the top rungs of fashion houses that’ve brought in female creative directors, like Bouchra Jarar at Lanvin and Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior, while established names like Miuccia Prada, Diane Von Furstenberg, Victoria Beckham, Tory Burch, and Stella McCartney are household names with ultra-successful fashion empires. Saks Fifth Avenue’s latest issue of its magalog (that’s a magazine-catalogue hybrid) explores this idea, with that Dior tee on its cover and all.
“There was something in the air that started in New York and continued to build through London, Milan and Paris — there was a shift taking place within the industry that stemmed from female designers,” Roopal Patel, Saks’ fashion director, told Refinery29. “We had never seen so many top female designers at the same time, and it felt like a new voice in fashion was beginning to rise: Women designing for women.”
The department store gathered seven female designers to discuss what the future of being a female designer might look like. The impressive roster includes Dior’s recently-appointed creative Chiuri, McCartney, Burch, Simone Rocha, Gabriela Hearst, Mary Katrantzou and Sacai’s Chitose Abe. “They are all helping to move fashion forward with their unique visions,” Patel said. “There could not have been a better moment to celebrate and honor them.”
Below, check out some thought-provoking quotes from each designer on being empowered as a female designer and what’s next for women in the industry.
Stella McCartney: “Being a woman right now is incredibly interesting. We are aware of the changes the generation that came before us went through and the possible changes that will happen in the generation still yet to come. I also feel we have a better understanding that we are a team—that we love men and we embrace them, but at the same time we have to support and stick together as women.”
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Tory Burch: “I always tell my stepdaughters and the women entrepreneurs we work with through our foundation to embrace ambition. There is never any need to hide the fact that you want to grow and thrive.”
Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri: “Women are everywhere. They are artistic directors like me. They’re heading up their own businesses. They’re in the ateliers; they’re in the offices; they’re on the board of directors; they’re in the stores. They are our clients.”
Mary Katrantzou: “Women have a deep understanding of the female body and how we wear clothes. We take on so many different roles in our everyday life and it’s important to understand the nature of dressing for all occasions. After all, it was a female designer who championed removing corsets from the everyday and liberated the modern woman of today.”
Simone Rocha: “For me, it is really very important to design clothing that appeals to all sorts of different women, different generations and different shapes and sizes. I really try to have a conversation with women about what their needs and wants are and try to capture what they deserve.”
Gabriela Hearst: “On the business side the top executives are strongly male based. So entrepreneurship for women is where, in my opinion, the biggest impact can happen.”
Sacai’s Chitose Abe: “What helped me start Sacai was self-examination. I looked at myself and saw that I was drawn to classic and familiar things and thought it would be interesting to reinterpret these classic and familiar is a great support system and there are so many notable female designers who are shaping fashion today.”
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